Day 5: DIKhan to Islamabad
by Dr. Mansur Ahmad
DI Khan, Darya Khan, Dullewala, Chashma barrage, Mianwali, Musa Khel, Akwal, Talagang, Chakwal, Islamabad.
Distance: 380km, 28th June 2000
Head northeast out of Dera Ismail Khan towards the Chashma Barrage, crossing the Indus at Chashma, and turn left on the main Indus Highway towards Mianwali (144 kilometers). Continuing to the east, the road to Mianwali gradually approaches the extremities of the Salt Range. The picturesque Nambal Lake is closeby, situated right at the foot of the Range. One gets a good view down onto the lake as the road starts to descend. Large numbers of migrating birds can be found here. The road then crosses wide plains of cultivated fields before entering the Talagang mud ravines to reach the city of Talagang (43 kilometers). After about eight kilometers the road forms a junction at the Islamabad - Lahore motorway. The motorway then winds it way through the hills of Kallar Kahar to reach Islamabad.
Dera Ismail Khan is north 31degrees 49.463 and east 070 degrees 55.668. Our overnight stay at the Midway Hotel was very pleasant. The rooms were Rs. 680 a night, which is very reasonable considering that they were air-conditioned and other comforts were provided free of cost, such as an extra mattress. They had arranged our breakfast in their dinning room, which was air-conditioned too. The total bill of the hotel was Rs.6800 for all twenty of us including dinner, breakfast, and the room rent. This hotel is highly recommended for travelers passing through DI Khan.
The hotel is almost on the riverbank itself, with the mighty Indus just across the road. The bank is paved with burnt bricks and measures about 20 feet in width. Everything around here is big, but even the massive trees lining the bank are dwarfed by the sea of muddy water that is the Indus. The river is several kilometers wide here, with the opposing bank hardly visible on the horizon. However, the water flows deceptively fast. Such is its force, that the old barrage that had stood there through the Second World War and countless floods was swept away the year before in some of the worst flooding the river has seen. The massive stone structure, built by the British well before partition, was a truly imposing sight. It was sad to find out that a piece of the history and attraction of DI Khan had been lost forever.
The bad roads we had encountered in the last few days claimed the luggage rack on the CJ-7. The constant shaking and shuddering over the rough roads, and sometimes lack thereof, caused the tubing to tear at the mounting bolts. For now, Imad would tie it up with durarope, but a more permanent solution would have to be sought in Islamabad. This minor setback delayed our departure slightly but we off from the hotel by 1.11 PM.
As we made our way to the Shell petrol pump in the suburbs of DI Khan, the temperature outside was already up to 50 degrees Celsius. The unbearable heat and humidity, typical of the plains of Punjab, made it impossible to venture out into the sun even for a minute at a time. Even the tar on the road was mushy from the intense heat. We filled the Prado up with 41 liters of diesel, worth Rs 568, and waited for the rest of the group in the orchard of date trees adjacent to the pump. However, the refueling stop at the petrol pump would take much longer than we expected. Most of us had come down with a stomach bug and a major queue forming at the loo at the petrol pump, with Khalid and Susan fighting it out.
Getting out of DI Khan was easy. Even though Islamabad is 380 km from here, we had no trouble finding our way. The roads here are very well posted with signs and directions to major destinations in the area. They are also properly paved, with the center islands painted yellow and black. Huge old trees, mostly poplar, line the road sides. There are recent plantations of these trees too.
We would travel towards the Chashma barrage first. The single road that leads here is a smooth avenue. The old trees lining both sides of the road formed a canopy with occassional shafts of sunlight shining through, dancing on the windshield as we drove through. The canopy shaded us from the blazing sun overhead, providing welcome relief from the brutal heat of the plains.
The vegetation all around here is very picturesque. Palm trees, poplar trees, and many other varieties of green shrubs can be found here in abundance. The large plantations of poplar trees look like a forest in the distance. Rice paddy fields on either side of the road lend the scenery different hues of green. An irrigation canal joins the road from the right side and carries along for miles. There are also sugarcane fields scattered all over the countryside.
We would reach Chashma barrage late in the afternoon. Taimur's jeep would claim the second casualty of the trip - a swallow attempting an unsuccessful low flying pass over the road. Chashma was a breathtaking sight; 'massive' would be an understatement. The humongous stone and steel structure is one of several barrages dotting the length of the Indus river, designed to tame and regulate the flow of floodwaters during the monsoon season. The barrage stretches for miles across the river, its gates holding back a wall of water. About 20 km from the barrage is the Indus Highway. The roads here were under construction, reduced to little more than a muddy 4×4 track in places. We finally reached the highway itself, a luxurious dual carriageway well marked for traffic from both directions. We would now proceed to Mianwali and then towards Talagang.
Mianwali is about 13 km from the point where the Chashma Barrage road joins the Indus Highway. We reached Mianwali at 4:50 PM and were soon on our way to Islamabad. The airconditioning on Taimur's jeep had packed up for some reason and Patricia, poor thing, was red from the 42 degree heat, so we took a reststop about 60 km from the M2 motorway to have some tea. The countryside here is very picturesque with small hills and ravines that have been cut by water currents over the millennia. Small bushes, shrubs and trees are scattered all over. The road is narrow but smooth as it makes its way through these aberrations in the terrain all the way upto Talagang.
We reached Talagang at 6:45pm. The weather had cooled down considerably though Pat still looked very red. Just short of the M2 motorway we made another pit stop and checked the air in the tires. The pump where we stopped had a very interesting water supply unit. It was an old hand pump connected to an electric motor for pumping out water from a tube well. About 10 km short of Chakwal is the turning towards the M2 motorway. We drove onto the motorway at 7:55 PM; it was 109 km to Islamabad from here. The drive on the motorway was uneventful and we reached the exit toll plaza at Islamabad around 9 PM. So far we had traveled approximately 1765 km from Karachi. The coordinates here were north 33 degrees 36.724 and east 072, and the temperature outside a comfortable 27 degrees.
We rolled into Islamabad at 9:45pm. The weather here was pleasant, the cool air fresh with the smell of foliage from the evening rain. We drove straight to the Kabul restaurant where we were going to have dinner, and from there to the Shalimar Guest house at 11:13pm. We had done 1791km so far. Islamabad would be our home for the next couple of days as we gathered the rest of the group and prepared ourselves for the adventurous part of the journey that was about to begin.
Posted in Khunjerab 2000, February 26, 2004, by Dr. Mansur Ahmad